Book Review

Sometimes You Have to Lie: The Life and Times of Louise Fitzhugh, Renegade Author of Harriet the Spy by Leslie Brody

Genre | Biography
Page #s | 335
Publishing Date | December 2020

In this inspiring biography, discover the true story of Harriet the Spy author Louise Fitzhugh — and learn about the woman behind one of literature’s most beloved heroines.

Harriet the Spy, first published in 1964, has mesmerized generations of readers and launched a million diarists. Its beloved antiheroine, Harriet, is erratic, unsentimental, and endearing-very much like the woman who created her, Louise Fitzhugh.

Born in 1928, Fitzhugh was raised in segregated Memphis, but she soon escaped her cloistered world and headed for New York, where her expanded milieu stretched from the lesbian bars of Greenwich Village to the art world of postwar Europe, and her circle of friends included members of the avant-garde like Maurice Sendak and Lorraine Hansberry. Fitzhugh’s novels, written in an era of political defiance, are full of resistance: to authority, to conformity, and even — radically, for a children’s author — to make-believe.

As a children’s author and a lesbian, Fitzhugh was often pressured to disguise her true nature. Sometimes You Have to Lie tells the story of her hidden life and of the creation of her masterpiece, which remains long after her death as a testament to the complicated relationship between truth, secrecy, and individualism.

Goodreads

I was excited to read a biography of a lesbian children’s author, but I found it very difficult to connect with Louise Fitzhugh and therefore the book itself. In a stunning example of intersectionality at work, Fitzhugh’s race and class gave her so much privilege that her queerness very rarely resulted in consequences. If I’m totally honest, she came across quite spoiled, and though there were some interesting anecdotes, on the whole I wasn’t interested.

The best parts of the book were the beginning and the end. Her parents tumultuous marriage and public divorce was novel for the time, and the fact that they tried to hide it from little Louise was definitely traumatizing. But her storyteller brain spun herself into a victim and potentially kept her from enjoying healthy relationships with her stepmother at the very least.

I did also enjoy her early forays into romantic and sexual relationships. I was surprised that she was sure of her attraction to women early on, and no one seemed to care beyond the heartbroken young men she passed over for a woman. I appreciated the stories of her romantic attraction to various men and how she tried to see if it could work before ultimately realizing the sexual attraction wasn’t there.

Unfortunately, it then devolved into a rotating series of relationships with women who gave and gave, but I wasn’t sure what exactly Louise was giving back. Apparently she was quite the charmer, but she seemed very unhealthy to me.

Readers who are more strongly attached to Harriet the Spy will likely be more interested in its author’s story, but I couldn’t get past her unexamined privilege. Has anyone else read this? Am I missing something?

Who Would I Recommend This Book To?

Fans of Harriet the Spy who want to know how Louise Fitzhugh’s personal life influenced characters and themes.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Come chat books with us on Roar Cat Reads’ discord.

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